Several criticisms have been leveled at the Inheritance Cycle in terms of story, characterization, and even strategical decisions. But little has been said about the magic (other than that it steals its mechanics from Earthsea), which is odd, because it is frankly one of the most absurdly described things in Christopher Paolini’s work. In fact, I would say it is my main criticism of the story, and would hardly complain about anything else. I’m going to focus on some of the basic mechanics and ideas about magic (specifically, three) in the first book, and how they’re violated or disregarded throughout the story.

When we first learn about magic through Brom’s infodump, we learn three things: first, that the Riders specifically get their magic from dragons as opposed to any other source; second, that it costs the same amount of energy to do something by magic as doing it manually; and third, that magic was taught by giving students impossible tasks until they instinctively learned magic.

Admittedly, the first, when it was brought up, sounds promising enough:

“…Many think the king’s magical powers come from the fact that he is a wizard or sorcerer. That’s not true; it is because he’s a Rider.”

“What’s the difference? Doesn’t the fact that I used magic make me a sorcerer?”

“Not at all! A sorcerer, like a Shade, uses spirits to accomplish his will. That is totally different from your power. Nor does that make you a magician, whose powers come without aid of spirits or a dragon. And you’re certainly not a witch or wizard, who get their powers from various potions and spells.”

- Eragon, page 144

Within this world, there are apparently several types of spellcasters—but these distinctions are never actually brought up again, with exception to the case of sorcerers. And of course, the problem with saying witches and wizards get their magic “from spells” is that pretty much any use of magic in the series is referred to as a “spell.” So that’s the same as saying a cook gets a kitchen by using a kitchen. I chalk this up to an underdeveloped idea, as I’ve never seen Paolini ever elaborate on it.

Then we get to the basic problem—where the hell does magic come from? Normally, this isn’t too much of an issue, but when so many spellcasters are characters, the fact that we have no idea where they get magic is somewhat jarring. Dragon Riders explicitly gain their magic by being bonded with a dragon, and sorcerers are implied to use methods similar to the magicians of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy:

“…sorcery is a dark and unseemly art. You should not seek to control other beings for you own gain. Even if you ignore the immorality of sorcery, it is an exceptionally dangerous and fiendishly complicated discipline. A magician requires at least three years of intensive study before he can hope to summon spirits and not have them possess him.

“Sorcery is not like other magics, Eragon; by it, you attempt to force incredibly powerful and hostile beings to obey your commands, beings who devote every moment of their captivity to finding a flaw in their bonds so that they can turn on you and subjugate you in revenge.”

- Brisingr, page 641

But even that suggests one must be a magician before becoming a sorcerer. Are magicians (without dragons) just born with magic then? From Oromis’s words, we get that it’s a kind of ability people have:

“You must keep in mind that the ability to use magic is exceedingly rare among the races. We elves are no exception, although we have a greater allotment of spellweavers than most…”

- Eldest, page 377

I call shenanigans on that whole “elf spellcasters are rare” thing, as every elf we see pretty much uses magic, but that aside, it seems like something people are born with. But that’s just a vague implication from something Oromis said. But is it genetic? God-given? Random? We have no idea. This wouldn’t be as weird if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many spellcasters in the series, and we have no idea how they got their powers.

But then things get confused much later in Eragon when we get this gem from Angela:

“I loathe Shades—they practice the most unholy magic, after necromancy.”

- Eragon, page 437

First, how can magic be “unholy”? It seems pretty obvious from the series that most of the magic performed isn’t good or evil, just a tool people use.

Secondly, Brom explicitly says people can’t be brought back from the dead, so the only assumption is that they reanimate the dead in a semblance of life… which would conflict with Magic Point 2, that you can’t spend more energy than the body has, as making a non-living body move around without a fully functioning set of organs and tissue would require a lot of energy.

Granted, there are possible explanations, such as using stored energy or drawing energy from other living organisms. Necromancy seems to be an obscure branch of magic, as it never comes up again, and Oromis himself even notes the energy-draining ability is “a secret that even Galbatorix may not know” (Eldest 539); so it’s entirely possible that’s what makes necromancy work.

But the point remains that Paolini hints at a very interesting idea and goes nowhere with it, one that takes work to make fit within the established canon.

Now to point number two: a spell should only cost as much energy as it would cost to do it manually. This is a handy little solution to limiting what it is a spellcaster can and can’t do, but a few problems come up, and one glaring problem: the very first time Eragon uses magic. When Eragon shouts “brisingr!”, it causes an explosion, and he passes out (again). It is a small explosion to be fair, and it does knock him out, but does the human body hold enough energy to produce an explosion?

The main problem with this system, though, is with spells that don’t do things a physical body can. Instantly starting a fire is one, but there are other things. Turning invisible, scrying, healing a wound, or blessing a child are not things the body can do, and yet these spells cost a specific amount of energy that is relatively low.

About that blessing, anyway—we’re going to cut to the quote from Brisingr and build from there (and I’m sorry, but it’s a bit of long one).

“The other method [for removing Elva’s curse] is to cast a spell that directly counteracts the effects of the original spell. It does not eliminate the original spell, but if done properly, it renders it harmless. With your permission, this is the method I intend to use.”

“A most elegant solution,” Angela proclaimed, “but who, pray tell, provides the continuous stream of energy needed to maintain this counterspell? And since someone must ask, what can go wrong with this particular method?”

Eragon kept his gaze fixed on Elva. “The energy will have to come from you,” he told her, pressing her hands with his. “It won’t be much, but it will still reduce your stamina by a certain amount. If I do this, you will never be able to run as far or lift as many pieces of firewood as someone who does not have a similar incantation leeching off them.”

“Why can’t you provide the energy?” asked Elva, arching an eyebrow. “You are the one who is responsible for my predicament, after all.”

“I would, but the farther away I got from you, the harder it would be to send the energy to you. And if I went too far—a mile, say, or maybe a bit more—the effort would kill me.”

- Brisingr, page 265

Make it through all that in one piece? Here’s basically what happens—Eragon sits down and explains to Elva (and the audience) that his counterspell will be one that directly counteracts his original curse on Elva instead of simply removing it (because he apparently can’t do that or something). Eragon makes a point that the counterspell would need a source of energy—that’s Elva. But that would imply that the spell Eragon cast in the first place required an energy source, but other than the initial loss of energy, it’s never mentioned that the juice is coming from anywhere.

In short, Elva’s curse is, as far as we can tell, continuously spending magical energy that is coming from nowhere. If this were made into a plot point, like, say, Eragon doesn’t know how to remove the curse because he has no idea where the energy is coming from, then it might be excusable. But it’s never even mentioned.

And speaking of energy paradoxes, the whole idea of wards is another paradox. If we follow what Brom says about magic, then holding a ward would be the same as manually protecting yourself from an attack, or holding up a shield. Yet here’s how they’re explained by Oromis:

“These wards, do they only drain energy from you when they are activated?”

“Aye.”

“Then, given enough time, you acquire countless layers of wards. You could make yourself…” He struggled with the ancient language as he attempted to express himself. “…untouchable?… impregnable?…impregnable to any assault, magical or physical.”

“Wards,” said Oromis, “rely upon the strength of your body. If that strength is exceeded, you die. No matter how many wards you have, you will only be able to block attacks so long as your body can sustain the output of energy.”

- Eldest, page 378

So wards require energy to keep working—a battery, like all other kinds of magic—and only take energy when something hits it. If the battery dies, so do the wards. And now we reach a problem: mainly that wards never work this way in practice in the books. Eragon’s wards wear out when they’ve been hit enough times:

Eragon’s own wards were scant. Since he had lavished the bulk of his attention on Saphira and Roran, Eragon’s magical defenses soon failed, and the smaller Ra’zac wounded him on the outside of his left knee.

- Brisingr, page 48

This makes some amount of sense—a magical shield that breaks under enough pressure; or at least it would, if it weren’t for the fact that Oromis told us how wards work and this isn’t it. They’re supposed to last as long as the body still has energy to sustain them. Seeing as Eragon is quite active for the next few hours, he still has quite a bit of energy left, as well as wards around Saphira and Roran (though the ones on Saphira are apparently not very effective, as the Lethrblaka wounded her several times).

Remember how I said that a ward would, in theory, be like holding up a shield every time something came at you? In his battle with the Ra’zac and Lethrblaka, Eragon has put up wards around himself, Roran and Saphira, with at least two of those being attacked at the same time. While I did note that the wards around Saphira are failing, the fact remains that the amount of energy expended should be noticeably taxing Eragon.

And these are hardly the first problems to crop up on wards in Brisingr.

Recall this rule?

“…you should know that magic is affected by distance, just like an arrow or a spear. If you try to lift or move something a mile away, it’ll take more energy than if you were closer. So if you see enemies racing after you from a league away, let them approach before using magic.”

- Eragon, page 149

While this rule is mostly followed in the first novel, when wards come up it is completely disregarded.

On three occasions, Roran was sure the soldier was about to wound him, but the man’s saber twisted at the last moment and missed Roran, diverted by an unseen force. Roran was thankful for Eragon’s wards then.

- Brisingr, Page 403

This is the first raid that Roran is in while with the Varden. While Eragon is running across the map, Roran’s fighting off a horseman and somehow, Eragon’s wards are protecting him. Yes, Oromis said wards only cost energy when activated, but here they’re being activated and Eragon, who is currently crossing the countryside at a full run, is not feeling any of the effects. Paolini? This should be killing him.

Even if Paolini set up wards so that they shouldn’t kill Eragon from across the continent, it would make sense that he would at least feel it when they run out. He is the one who cast the spell, after all.

Lastly, we have our final issue, on how Riders learn magic. Brom specifically states that Riders aren’t told that they can use magic until they exhibit the ability. Students are set up to do impossible tasks until they’re frustrated enough to use magic. This seems like an interesting enough idea, but there’s a problem.

“So I’m limited by my knowledge of this language?”

“Exactly,” crowed Brom.

- Eragon, page 146

Magic is tied to language. So while an elven Dragon Rider might figure out how to use magic by saying something while incredibly frustrated because the AL is his/her first language, any human Rider is up a creek because they have no experience in the language. Granted, they could be in an environment that gives them minimum exposure to the AL, but this is still a huge leap to make.

And we know that words are the key to using magic. Brom directly says it in the chapter “Magic is the Simplest Thing” and the Twins specifically search for more AL words when they’re fishing around Eragon’s head. Like Brom says, one MUST know the language in order to use magic, and lack of knowledge would mean you cannot use magic. Which, if the elves have cut off contact with humans, means that human spellcasters are probably severely limited in what they can accomplish with magic. It’s like dropping a bunch of Catholics into a country where the inhabitants exclusively speak Latin and expecting them to be able to order a sandwich in Latin. Except, you know, more dangerous, as using magic incorrectly can kill you.

The magic of the Inheritance Cyle is, in short, broken. Normally, I’m perfectly fine with magic being an unexplainable phenomenon that just happens, but Paolini took pains to hammer out an exact system that works based on several rules. That he just goes and violates said rules is simply boggling and confusing.

It’s sad, because stories about a spellcaster who rides a dragon have the potential to be awesome. How does being bonded to a dragon affect magic? Would they really worry so much about complicated magic if their role in the world was to be peacekeepers? How can magic be used to complement combat? All of these are questions that are answered in the most awkward ways possible.

This magic system is just a jumbled mess. What started out as a simple enough system based on the basic (if a bit linguistically shoddy) AL became a tangled mess of mechanics that doesn’t work and serves no purpose but to confuse the reader. I remember getting to Brisingr and skimming all of the parts that explain or describe magic because it just made no sense.

Fantasy writers, take heed—don’t throw out continuity for the sake of making cool moments or so that your protagonist sounds smart.

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Comment

  1. Inkblot on 30 July 2012, 14:28 said:

    I must applaud you on making an inoffensive and quite funny Catholic joke. Bravo, sir or madam.

    Your analysis is quite good, backed up with quotes and evidence and your conclusions are logical.

    For my own part, I feel tempted to invoke the MST mantra with things like this, but your effort shows and is admirable, even if I can’t quite understand the pure flame of justice which motivates it. Good work and hope to see more of you.

  2. Fireshark on 30 July 2012, 15:33 said:

    I think the problem with Paolini’s magic is that it’s explained too much, if that makes any sense. It was easier for me to suspend disbelief in Harry Potter, where they don’t even attempt to make magic follow a real set of rules. Trying and failing is much worse than skipping the issue, in my opinion. If only Paolini had held to the system from the first book, it would have been OK.

  3. Tim on 30 July 2012, 15:37 said:

    It is a small explosion to be fair, and it does knock him out, but does the human body hold enough energy to produce an explosion?

    Energy is a weird thing; you’ll find, for example, that a candy bar contains about as much energy as a stick of dynamite. And for that matter that a coffee cup filled with pure energy would be enough to boil all the oceans of the world. There would be problems with that (Eragon’s body would actually have to lose mass if he’s transitioning it to pure energy when he does magic), but there’s so many other problems with the brisingr scene that whether his body contains enough energy is the least of its problems.

    The biggest problem with the magic system in Eragon is that Paolini forgets that it’s not important what you can do, what matters is keeping the reader informed of what you can’t do. Otherwise any scene involving magic becomes a match between the author’s imagination and the reader’s. A great comparison is Terminator 2 to Terminator 3. In the latter we’re just told all the cool shit the T-X can do (onboard weapons! Silly nanomachines!), but they constantly put it in positions where we can think of cooler shit than the writers did (like, um, the dozen or so situations where the onboard weapons would have instantly ended the movie). The T-1000 in T2, on the other hand, has very rigid limitations on what it can do, and when it works within those limits in unexpected ways we see how cunning it is.

    Also, unlimited magic systems are pretty obviously writerly get out of jail free cards, and using one of those is the best way to stop your readers giving a shit.

  4. Fireshark on 30 July 2012, 16:00 said:

    Also, unlimited magic systems are pretty obviously writerly get out of jail free cards, and using one of those is the best way to stop your readers giving a shit.

    Harry Potter does have limits, in that you can only do a bit of magic if you’ve learned how. Inheritance allows a wizard to make up spells. I actually think Inheritance is more prone to ass pulls.

    a coffee cup filled with pure energy

    I thought there was no such thing as “pure energy.”

    But yeah, you’re right that there’s a ton of energy everywhere. I think Pao actually realized this by the last book, considering the guy who turned himself into a nuke or something in the backstory.

  5. Tim on 30 July 2012, 16:15 said:

    Saphira always struck me as an all-purpose asspull (“I don’t know what my magic will do when I use it” and all) and generally when Paolini establishes a rule it’s so that Eragon can later break it the next time he hasn’t been amazing for several pages. Though Harry Potter has a few such things (oh, Hermione had a time machine, that would have been useful roughly every time anyone does anything) it’s not quite as blatant about it.

    Pure energy is a rather wanky concept, but I’ve heard that example a few times; I think the point is if you perfectly changed the mass of liquid in a coffee cup into the energy implied by its mass you’d have a ridiculously large amount. Obviously aside from annihilating it with an equal mass of anticoffee (Klatchian gold blend?) we don’t know of any way to actually do that.

  6. Tim on 30 July 2012, 16:20 said:

    Klatchian decaf, rather. Gold Blend’s the mud with water and useful chemicals rather than the mud with water.

  7. swenson on 30 July 2012, 16:22 said:

    Tim, that’s why I’m a huge fan of magic systems with rules that are stuck to. Working within constraints makes things more interesting. When your tools are limited, you have to get creative, and that’s what I like to see.

    Alternately, make it LOOK like your magic has rules, like Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. She may or may not ever have actually worked out her complete magic system, but it didn’t matter, because you believed such a system existed, even if it didn’t. You believed a character when they said “X isn’t possible with magic”, even if you didn’t understand why.

    Alternately alternately, don’t have any rules, yet make magic so vague, uncontrollable, or just plain alien that you don’t expect it to fix everything anyway, a la Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s world has magic in it, after a fashion, but it’s so nebulous, you can’t really say “well, Gandalf could do X” or “well, Celeborn could do Y”. So again, you just assume that whatever the characters say is impossible really is impossible.

    Trying to have the best of both worlds—coming up with over-explained rules of magic that you regularly bend, break, and forget—is a recipe for disaster, as is not coming up with any rules yet still making magic easily accessible (which will make everyone go “why don’t they just cast the ‘win at everything’ spell and be done with it?”).

    That all being said, I like aspects of the IC magic system. I like that it’s tied to language, but that a sufficiently focused person can circumvent that (although it’s dangerous). I like that nearly anything is theoretically possible, but in practical terms most things aren’t really. I like the idea that magic is more of a shortcut method than a “instant win” button. I just really wish all of those aspects were actually shown at any point in the series.

    Interestingly enough, one of my favorite uses of magic is in the first book. Yes, the scene is stupid for MANY reasons, but I like when Eragon needs to find water in the desert and first tries to change earth into water, realizing quickly that that’s nearly impossible and would kill him, so he has to think outside the box and pull together water from the environment. It may not make all that much sense (lifting that much water should be exhausting!), but at least it’s a look at how a magic user can work cleverly within restraints.

  8. Juracan on 30 July 2012, 16:27 said:

    I must applaud you on making an inoffensive and quite funny Catholic joke. Bravo, sir or madam.

    Well, I’m also Catholic myself. That might have something to do with it. The original quote was along the lines of dropping anime fans in Japan.

    And it is indeed ‘sir.’

    For my own part, I feel tempted to invoke the MST mantra with things like this, but your effort shows and is admirable, even if I can’t quite understand the pure flame of justice which motivates it. Good work and hope to see more of you.

    I’m really not that much of an anti— I have all four books sitting in my room (which is how I’m able to get quotes). The story behind this essay is that I sometimes read books to my mother— Rick Riordan, C.S. Lewis, and James A. Owen, mostly— and after I read Brisingr aloud recently I was reminded how much the magic system bothered me.

    And I do indeed hope to write more in the future.

    I think the problem with Paolini’s magic is that it’s explained too much, if that makes any sense. It was easier for me to suspend disbelief in Harry Potter, where they don’t even attempt to make magic follow a real set of rules. Trying and failing is much worse than skipping the issue, in my opinion. If only Paolini had held to the system from the first book, it would have been OK.

    I’m mostly of that opinion— the first book’s magic was understandable enough. It’s when Paolini expanded the system into a jumbled mess that it really bugged me. It wasn’t even that bad in Eldest. The scene where Eragon tries to remove Elva’s curse is when I realized how pissed off I was.

    Energy is a weird thing; you’ll find, for example, that a candy bar contains about as much energy as a stick of dynamite. And for that matter that a coffee cup filled with pure energy would be enough to boil all the oceans of the world. There would be problems with that (Eragon’s body would actually have to lose mass if he’s transitioning it to pure energy when he does magic), but there’s so many other problems with the brisingr scene that whether his body contains enough energy is the least of its problems.

    Okay. I should have made it more clear that I wasn’t sure how that would work.

    And yes, there were other problems, but the critique was getting really in-depth as it was without mentioning that I don’t think explosions work the way Eragon’s did.

    Harry Potter does have limits, in that you can only do a bit of magic if you’ve learned how. Inheritance allows a wizard to make up spells. I actually think Inheritance is more prone to ass pulls.

    Well, Harry does inflate his aunt and speak to snakes without know how, but there are clear limitations in what magic can and can’t do. I like the idea that a wizard has the freedom to invent their own spells, but it’s just executed so poorly…

  9. gervasium on 30 July 2012, 21:35 said:

    You cannot create food in Harry Potter. You cannot bring back the dead. You cannot change the past. These are several of the rules of magic in Harry Potter. The difference is that they are presented rarely because the magic system is not the focus of the story. Plus, explaining everything to the reader removes mysticism .(midichlorians, anyone?)

  10. Fireshark on 30 July 2012, 22:30 said:

    midichlorians

    Sorry, Star Wars nerd coming through. Midi-chlorians are concentrated in individuals strong in the Force. They form a connection between the it and the person. They themselves are not the Force, thankfully.

  11. Fireshark on 30 July 2012, 22:32 said:

    *between it and the person. EDIT BUTTON! Y U NO EXIST?

  12. LoneWolf on 31 July 2012, 01:21 said:

    Harry Potter’s magical system is so subservient to the plot, it’s extremely asspullish.

  13. Tim on 31 July 2012, 01:32 said:

    I think Lucas must just have heard the plot of Parasite Eve for that, since he’s effectively saying mitochondria cause the Force. In the original movies it was implied that The Force was basically Chi and it only took mental discipline to become a Jedi, and overcomplicating it made it both more mundane and didn’t gel with what had been said about it before.

  14. Tim on 31 July 2012, 02:19 said:

    And yes, there were other problems, but the critique was getting really in-depth as it was without mentioning that I don’t think explosions work the way Eragon’s did.

    Well, I mean more that it doesn’t fit with anything that’s later said about magic; according to the fluff, saying something you think is a swearword without any real idea what you want it to do ought to have done…absolutely nothing.

  15. TakuGifian on 31 July 2012, 05:20 said:

    Excellent article. I’m a bit disappointed you didn’t quote the infamous line in Brisingr that completely blows the magic system out of the water, when Eragon “reweaves the fabric of the world as he sees fit” without either conscious thought OR using the words of the AL.

  16. Tim on 31 July 2012, 06:09 said:

    Harry Potter’s magical system is so subservient to the plot, it’s extremely asspullish.

    Yeah, but it does lay down some important limits (the Unforgivable Curses) which serve the same purpose as John’s conversation about what the T-1000 can’t do in Terminator 2; they deal with the most obvious audience “well, why doesn’t he…?” issues. While we might have no set rules about Harry using Ignitus Rectum or Igpay Atinlay, we know why he can’t just use his wand as a gun or order Voldermort to kill himself.

  17. Sahgo on 31 July 2012, 13:12 said:

    Excellent critique; it sums up pretty much everything I think about the magic system of the series (and I, too, consider it to be the greatest flaw in it).

    That reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about the subject. Basically, we kept wondering “why can’t Eragon just [X] and get the war done with?”. We could come up with a lot of [X]s; some of them were ignored because “yeah, that sounds like it would take all the energy ever and then some”, but most could only be explained with “Well, Galby probably put on a protection on all his soldiers against that, so it wouldn’t work”. Which finally made me see my biggest annoyance with this system — if Galby (and any enemy that has magic) always puts on wards against every kind of magic Eragon can think of, then, really, what IS the point of having magic in the book anyway? You could rewrite the entire plot without magic and, with the exception of Elva, very little would change in the grande scheme of things.

    In other words, if the magic system is too broken, either make it vague or don’t make it in the first place.

  18. Minoan Ferret on 31 July 2012, 16:23 said:

    …we know why he can’t just use his wand as a gun or order Voldermort to kill himself.

    Could he, or anyone else, use a real gun to kill Voldy?

  19. Juracan on 31 July 2012, 16:24 said:

    Sorry, Star Wars nerd coming through. Midi-chlorians are concentrated in individuals strong in the Force. They form a connection between the it and the person. They themselves are not the Force, thankfully.

    That’s how I saw it really— so the Force was both a mystical element with a physical, biological imprint. I kind of liked it.

    Excellent article. I’m a bit disappointed you didn’t quote the infamous line in Brisingr that completely blows the magic system out of the water, when Eragon “reweaves the fabric of the world as he sees fit” without either conscious thought OR using the words of the AL.

    I just assumed Paolini was using purple prose to say ‘he used his speshul powers.’ I’ll have to look for that quote…

    That reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about the subject. Basically, we kept wondering “why can’t Eragon just [X] and get the war done with?”. We could come up with a lot of [X]s; some of them were ignored because “yeah, that sounds like it would take all the energy ever and then some”, but most could only be explained with “Well, Galby probably put on a protection on all his soldiers against that, so it wouldn’t work”. Which finally made me see my biggest annoyance with this system — if Galby (and any enemy that has magic) always puts on wards against every kind of magic Eragon can think of, then, really, what IS the point of having magic in the book anyway? You could rewrite the entire plot without magic and, with the exception of Elva, very little would change in the grande scheme of things.

    In other words, if the magic system is too broken, either make it vague or don’t make it in the first place.

    What’s odd is that it’s constantly acknowledged that Galbatorix could end the war if he just got off his lazy ass and killed the Varden…

    I think the best solution would not necessarily be to remove magic altogether, but to remove it from the main character, except for maybe some specific abilities. If Eragon’s powers were directly related to being bonded with Saphira, that would be more forgivable.

    There’s a line where they face Murtagh in Brisingr, and when they note that he got away, Saphira immediately says We must become more powerful. No change of strategy or anything, just MOAR POWAH.

    [sigh]

    Maybe that’s my issue with the series (and its magic)— that everything just boils down to magical firepower more than anything else.

  20. Tim on 31 July 2012, 18:00 said:

    Could he, or anyone else, use a real gun to kill Voldy?

    Well, as a mundane weapon it’d probably just be a matter of shouting Bulletus Stoppus or whatever. Plus it’s set in England, so weapons would be almost entirely limited to a farmer’s shotgun unless he goes somewhere even Voldemort fears to tread and tries to find a gun in the forbidden streets south of the Thames. And “Harry Potter and the Yardies With Tyre Irons” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  21. Juracan on 31 July 2012, 18:11 said:

    Well, as a mundane weapon it’d probably just be a matter of shouting Bulletus Stoppus or whatever. Plus it’s set in England, so weapons would be almost entirely limited to a farmer’s shotgun unless he goes somewhere even Voldemort fears to tread and tries to find a gun in the forbidden streets south of the Thames. And “Harry Potter and the Yardies With Tyre Irons” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    Rowling actually has said that if it ever came to guns versus wizard, wizard would lose. Can’t find a link anywhere for that, though.

    In Inheritance, I imagine one can ward against a bullet, though.

  22. Tim on 31 July 2012, 18:18 said:

    I can see why she didn’t do it, though. Bringing in too much real life would start to tangle RL history into her escapist wizarding school, and that brings up things that would be both stupid and horribly disrespectful (were wizards drafted to serve in the wars?) and before you know it you’re looking down at a sheet of ideas for how reconcile the setting of a book for young children with the Holocaust.

    And let’s face it, IRL the Ministry of Magic would be under the Ministry of Defence, meaning you’d have to sign a dozen forms to pull a rabbit out of a hat and most magic would be done by Muggle contractors.

  23. ThaArmada on 31 July 2012, 18:29 said:

    The amount of energy required to stop even a .22 pistol round would tire someone out. The about of energy to stop a .556 NATO would severely weaken the wizard to the point of collapsing. Stopping something bigger like a 30-06 or a .50 BMG would kill them.

  24. Apep on 31 July 2012, 18:34 said:

    Could he, or anyone else, use a real gun to kill Voldy?

    Well, as a mundane weapon it’d probably just be a matter of shouting Bulletus Stoppus or whatever.

    I want to think Rowling answered the magic vs. guns with regards to the Potter-verse with something like “yes, guns would beat magic, no question.” And while Voldy might know what a gun was, most wizards (especially pure-bloods) probably wouldn’t. Still, I’m sure they’d learn damn fast and put up some physical protections.

    And “Harry Potter and the Yardies With Tyre Irons” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    But it does sound like a fun crack fic.

  25. Tim on 31 July 2012, 18:40 said:

    The amount of energy required to stop even a .22 pistol round would tire someone out. (etc)

    …Because magic in Harry Potter scales directly to kinetic energy? Also the NATO round is 5.56mm, you’d have a hard time not stopping a .556mm bullet.

  26. swenson on 31 July 2012, 18:54 said:

    A .556 mm bullet? Lol. I concur that the decimal was proooobably misplaced there…

  27. Juracan on 31 July 2012, 19:24 said:

    …Because magic in Harry Potter scales directly to kinetic energy?

    I think he was referring to me saying that Galby or Eragon could stop a bullet. I didn’t say it made sense logically, but if the element of firearms ever made it to Alagaesia, Paolini would probably invent a way for magic to stop bullets (or something) to prevent his absurdly complicated magic system from becoming obsolete.

  28. Tim on 31 July 2012, 19:42 said:

    I imagine you could stop bullets if you knew the true name of the material they were made from, which in a less wankerish setting would give an interesting arms race between alchemists trying to create more obtuse compounds to make bullets from and mages trying to figure out what they’re using. Which itself begs the question of what would happen if you knew the true name of carbon.

  29. Tim on 1 August 2012, 13:10 said:

    Also I think it’s more of a problem that Paolini felt he needed Eragon to be a magic user at all when he already has a dragon. The series would have been far better sticking to the bond between an unremarkable boy and a remarkable creature than getting to the point where Saphira is a glorified taxi for the incredfantasticous heroman.

  30. RandomX2 on 1 August 2012, 20:29 said:

    Also I think it’s more of a problem that Paolini felt he needed Eragon to be a magic user at all when he already has a dragon.

    It would’ve been neat if Eragon didn’t have magic. Winning a war against Murtagh + army + magicians with the Varden’s own magicians + Saphira + strategy would be cool. I always like seeing people be efficient with battle tactics.

    … any human Rider is up a creek because they have no experience in the language. Granted, they could be in an environment that gives them minimum exposure to the AL, but this is still a huge leap to make…

    That confused me for a sec. Did you mean maximum exposure, so human Riders could passively pick up on the AL?

    Nice article, man. I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t think about these points before. Especially that ward system; that’s heavily broken. I don’t think Roran ever gets tired whenever Eragon’s wards protect him, so the energy comes from somewhere else. It can’t be Eragon because of distance, and Roran doesn’t carry any energy-filled gems with him as far as I remember. I don’t think the system allows you to store energy inside a person for later use, either.

  31. Juracan on 1 August 2012, 22:13 said:

    Also I think it’s more of a problem that Paolini felt he needed Eragon to be a magic user at all when he already has a dragon. The series would have been far better sticking to the bond between an unremarkable boy and a remarkable creature than getting to the point where Saphira is a glorified taxi for the incredfantasticous heroman.

    If I were to try to do a dragon rider story (which I won’t, because I have enough on my plate as it is), I wouldn’t necessarily eliminate magic powers, but I would think if I did give the Rider powers, they would be related to dragons— perhaps tougher skin or a a better sense of smell or something. Or maybe the bond would make the rider’s mind more dragon-ish.

    That confused me for a sec. Did you mean maximum exposure, so human Riders could passively pick up on the AL?

    I should have clarified. I meant that I think since a large percentage of the Riders were elves, and probably had a strong interaction with that people, that human Riders might pick up some AL from fellow Riders-in-training, in the same way that I might pick up a word or two of French if my roommate in summer camp grew up in France or was French-Canadian.

    Does that answer your question?

  32. ThaArmada on 1 August 2012, 22:54 said:

    I was referring to Eragon magic for the bullet comparison, sorry for not clarifying. And even an HP wizard wouldn’t be able to stop a 50 BMG.

  33. Tim on 1 August 2012, 23:53 said:

    The owner of the world’s only wizard ballistics lab speaks.

  34. Fireshark on 2 August 2012, 01:04 said:

    And even an HP wizard wouldn’t be able to stop a 50 BMG.

    HP wizards can teleport though, including in the middle of a fight (I’m pretty sure at least Dumbledore has done it). It’s not always about stopping power as long as you don’t get hit.

  35. Tim on 2 August 2012, 02:40 said:

    Well, that and there’s no reason to believe that magic (or technology*) necessarily works like conventional armour; shields in Dune, for example, would stop a .50 cal bullet but would not stop a punch. For all we know as the bullet gets bigger it makes it easier for the wizard to cast spells on the bullet itself rather than having to use magic to stop it when it hits them, so a 9mm bullet would be hard to stop while a .50 would get turned into a hummingbird or a cloud of morning mist. Or they can see it coming more easily and deflect it, which takes a lot less energy than stopping it cold would. Or whatever.

    Rowling avoids this issue entirely by never having it happen, mind you, which is the best way most of the time.

    *Clarke’s Cynical Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from the author making shit up as they go along.”

  36. RandomX2 on 2 August 2012, 11:25 said:

    @Juracan: No, I understood the gist of what you were saying already. It was an issue with words that I was drawing attention to. You wrote:

    Granted, they could be in an environment that gives them minimum exposure to the AL, but this is still a huge leap to make

    I thought it should’ve been:

    Granted, they could be in an environment that gives them maximum exposure to the AL, but this is still a huge leap to make

    As in, they normally wouldn’t speak or curse in the AL, but in this case they would because their environment has so much of the AL going around with all the elves (i.e. maximum exposure). I thought maximum worked better because it’s the maximum relative to anywhere else they could go.

    But you probably meant that they could speak the AL because they would have at least some exposure to the AL. A trifling, minimum amount, hence your word choice. The minimum would be relative to the elves’ exposure to the language.

    Basically, I thought you accidentally wrote the wrong word (minimum in place of maximum). The content itself is fine, and the phrase itself works either way.

    TL;DR: Attempted to correct something that didn`t need correcting.

  37. ThaArmada on 2 August 2012, 12:34 said:

    About dodging a 50 cal. It has a muzzle velocity of over 4000 FPS. to give you a comparison the MVs for the 5.56 and 30-06 are 3200 and 3000 fps respectively. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean slower.

  38. Tim on 2 August 2012, 16:48 said:

    Stop quoting numbers from Wikipedia, muzzle velocity doesn’t necessarily matter either. THEY ARE WIZARDS.

  39. ThaArmada on 2 August 2012, 17:43 said:

    I am nto quoting wikipedia. You fire guns long enough and hang around gun enthusiasts long enough you know these things. And just saying they are wizards? seriously? How can they dodge what they can’t see?

  40. Tim on 2 August 2012, 18:20 said:

    How do you know they have to see it the same way a normal person does? The whole point you’re not getting is that magic is magic, it only matters that there are a consistent set of rules, not what those rules are. The author could say they can sense the size of the bullet regardless of velocity, the air currents it creates as it moves, whatever. You can’t just act like magic must work like conventional armour, because there’s no real reason why it should. That’s not even getting into a wizard potentially, with a very small action on his part, being able to jam, decock or engage the safety on his opponent’s weapon if he has some idea how it works.

    Also if you hung around guns you’d know that muzzle velocity depends on powder loading, bullet weight and barrel length, not just the projectile diameter. A 5.56mm round fired from OA’s stupid “M16-style pistol” is not going to be going anything like as fast as one fired from a full-size M16, for example.

  41. Tim on 2 August 2012, 18:44 said:

    Also, what the hell are you firing a .50 BMG out of to get 4,000+ feet per second? Figures I’ve checked up on are 2,500-3,000 FPS from a 45 inch barrel depending on loading, tending to be slower than a 5.56mm fired from a 20-inch barrel (~2,900-3,100 FPS).

  42. ThaArmada on 3 August 2012, 00:29 said:

    Ugh, my bad on the numbers. As for the other stats, I was assuming the shooter would be using a Barret M82, given that its the most represented .50 out there.

    Since we were talking about HP first I’ll go there. Harry Potter wizards can barely get ordinary muggle tech working, there is a slim to none chance they’d know how a gun works. And I don’t recall there being any spells to detect small, high velocity objects incoming at high speed. The wizard would have to hope their shield charm (if they have one up) holds.

  43. Tim on 3 August 2012, 03:01 said:

    Ah, I figured it was either that or some horrifying Bubba homeload where you seat a bullet in a stick of dynamite and wonder why pulling the trigger teleports you to hospital and renders you suddenly unable to count past five.

    Either way, like I said, there’s no reason to think magic is just armour. We don’t really know because HP is set in a magical anachro-land which doesn’t include any technology Rowling didn’t want it to (since Dumbledore trying every spell he knows to make the evil paperclip stop staring at him JUDGING HIM every time he tries to write a spell down in Word wouldn’t be very magical), but in general there’s no real reason to believe wizarding is limited chiefly by kinetic energy unless the author actually makes that a rule.

  44. Fireshark on 3 August 2012, 12:03 said:

    In addition, an Inheritance Cycle wizard could probably survive any bullet just with wards. Yes, there’s a lot of energy in a bullet, but that energy would presumably be spread out over a person by magical defense. I’ve heard that falling out of bed is kinetically equivalent to getting shot a couple times. Bullets are so effective because they concentrate their energy into a small area, and there’s no reason that magic couldn’t disperse it, making it different from conventional armor.

  45. ThaArmada on 3 August 2012, 13:03 said:

    Though, presumably, enough bullets would get through, even if you need a Browning M@ on full auto or a mini gun to do it.

  46. ThaArmada on 3 August 2012, 13:04 said:

    But yeh, I see what you’re saying.

  47. Kyllorac on 3 August 2012, 15:37 said:

    Also, what the hell are you firing a .50 BMG out of to get 4,000+ feet per second?

    Armor-piercing sabot rounds have velocities of 4,000 fps, but it beats me why someone would want to waste an armor-piercing round on a squishy wizard.

    In any case, the laws of magic do not necessarily adhere to the laws of physics, and so all physics-based arguments about how magic would be hard-pressed to counter bullets are moot.

    I also think that Rowling’s comment on gun-armed Muggle > wizard had more to do with how much faster it is to shoot a gun than cast a spell. One involves aiming and pulling a trigger; the other involves aiming, recalling the correct incantation, and then waving the wand appropriately.

  48. Tim on 4 August 2012, 04:29 said:

    Armor-piercing sabot rounds have velocities of 4,000 fps, but it beats me why someone would want to waste an armor-piercing round on a squishy wizard.

    Well yeah, and SLAP sabots weigh roughly half as much as normal .50 BMG bullets do (less than half as much as some) which doesn’t quite fit the “bigger doesn’t necessarily mean slower” comment. And yeah, you’d unlikely to have bought along a belt of AP ammo to shoot at a human being unless you either know he’s a wizard with magical skills exactly like X thickness of steel plate or you’re an idiot with no idea what you’re doing.

    Back to topic, the more I think of Eragon not being some magical asshole the more it seems like a good story idea, especially if you make the pivotal story point for non-sociopathic Eragon that he burns the rider’s mark off his hand in a campfire and tells Saphira she can choose to heal him or leave because he’d rather be her friend than her Rider.

  49. RandomX2 on 4 August 2012, 21:00 said:

    … pivotal story point for non-sociopathic Eragon that he burns the rider’s mark off his hand in a campfire and tells Saphira she can choose to heal him or leave because he’d rather be her friend than her Rider.

    Burning off the silver hand mark is dramatic and overkill. But saying that his priority is being a friend to her is cool.

    If there was a remake of Inheritance, I’d prefer a chill Eragon. He’d probably die before long, but whatever.

  50. Tim on 4 August 2012, 21:18 said:

    I don’t know, the way I’d pitch that is that having the mark lets him use her magic without really requiring her permission; sure, it gives him a bunch of advantages, but presumably making him human+1 makes her dragon-1 (or dragon-fraction if you relate it directly). By burning it off he’s saying “I’m going to be who I was and you’re going to be you, and if our bond is real nothing will change, and if it’s not then at least I can say I did the right thing.” It makes her more than his slave and walking battery if his only access to her powers is her choosing to use them.

    It’s kind of dramatic, sure, but if we cast Eragon as brave but not enormously bright rather than Gary Stu I could see it fitting.

  51. ThaArmada on 4 August 2012, 23:00 said:

    Give Eragon a sensitive side too, like using his magic to heal people, but factor in the dim part by having him do the healing when he knows he will be in danger if he reveals his magic.

  52. RandomX2 on 5 August 2012, 12:23 said:

    When you guys say a dim Eragon, a Zoolander/Eragon fusion comes to mind.

    presumably making him human+1 makes her dragon-1 (or dragon-fraction if you relate it directly)

    As in when he casts magic, Saphira is the one that gets tired? That’s a neat idea. It’s also cool because dragons get infinite magic at random points, so if Eragon taps into Saphira’s magic while she’s raging he could use Kamehameha, or go into a Metroid Prime style Hyper-Mode when he can spam Brisingr everywhere.

    Not that it’s just a good idea for storyline and magics; character development increases with that approach as well. Plus it makes Saphira useful. I felt like her importance decreased as the series progressed, though I’m sure someone’s already drawn attention to that.

    Give Eragon a sensitive side too, like using his magic to heal people, but factor in the dim part by having him do the healing when he knows he will be in danger if he reveals his magic.

    I’m reminded of something Sansafro wrote. The context is that a person from a prosperous region sees what a young poor child has to become (personality-wise) in order to survive. The dialogue was something to the effect of: “You care when it’s in front of you, as this boy is now, and that’s understandable. But when you get to the shady side of the world where this stuff happens all the time and is invisible unless you look for it, do you really care?”

    Even more character development opportunities. I know Eragon says at some point that he fights Galbatorix to stop these kind of injustices, but he never runs into anyone in a tight spot. He rarely gets fuel to motivate him to fight Galbatorix, and that’s just wasteful in a world with a tyrannical ruler. There should’ve been some heavy opportunity to run into the less fortunate and learn from them.

    So I suppose he could start out as a sensitive guy and develop from there with all the injustice in the world. That’s two interesting takes right here in terms of character development for Eragon, without necessarily changing the majority of the story.

  53. Mig on 26 April 2016, 21:39 said:

    You are completely wrong first of all magic is not limited to words as shown by Oromis that you can just think it up and it will work as long as you have the energy.second with the razak it was obvious that it just ment that he was running out of energy like many other times and just ended the wards. It is shown that he is running out of energy when he fights the last of the razak and also later when he is deccending from the mountain and he has to stop very frequently.lastly you just need to think when you read the books and you will find that you are absolutely incorrect about this and that you need to get your brain checked.

  54. Asahel on 30 April 2016, 20:47 said:

    You are completely wrong first of all magic is not limited to words as shown by Oromis that you can just think it up and it will work as long as you have the energy.

    Quick question: are you disagreeing with Juracan or with Brom? After all, it was Brom who said the following in response to Eragon’s question about language:

    “So I’m limited by my knowledge of this language?”

    “Exactly,” crowed Brom.

    Anyway, it’s not like what you cited from Oromis is mutually exclusive with what Juracan or Brom said. Yes, it’s true that you don’t have to speak a spell for it to work, but that doesn’t mean that the spell — whether spoken or thought — doesn’t have to be in the Ancient Language in order to work. Chew on that for a while, and while you’re at it…

    you need to get your brain checked.

    Stay away from petty insults. They are unbecoming in reasoned discourse.